Cancer continues to be one of the most lethal diseases among humans, despite years of considerable progress made in its diagnosis and treatment. According to the World Health Organization, cancer is the second most frequent cause of death in the world, with 8.8 million people dying from this disease in 2015 alone.
Two of the most significant problems in the treatment of cancer are late-stage presentation and inaccessible diagnosis. Cancer is often detected in its later stages. By then, the functioning of crucial organs has been compromised and is on its way to spreading throughout the body. As a result, methods for early detection of cancer play a vital role in identifying the most appropriate and effective treatment option. Cancer diagnostics is, therefore, an active area of current research.
For the longest time, cancer diagnosis relied primarily on invasive tissue biopsy since noninvasive diagnostic tests were generally known to be insufficient in identifying and defining a disease process of cancer. However, noninvasive alternatives are constantly being developed to accurately detect traces of cancer in the blood. Apart from detection of a tumor through common noninvasive imaging techniques such as ultrasound, MRI, PET scans, CT scans, and x-rays, development of noninvasive methods to further study tumor DNA is underway.
Liquid Biopsy Paving the Way for Noninvasive Diagnostics
Liquid biopsy is a simple and noninvasive method under development as an alternative to a surgical biopsy. This allows doctors to collect a wide scope of data about a tumor through a mere blood sample. Studying traces of the cancer’s DNA in the blood sheds light on the kind of treatment most likely to work for the patient in question. Even though a major part of the early research on liquid biopsy has been restricted to prostate, breast, and lung cancers, this technology is anticipated to significantly impact all types of cancer.
Being noninvasive in nature, patients find liquid biopsies much easier to tolerate. Moreover, the procedure is quicker than the surgical alternative. Liquid biopsies also have the potential to detect the progression of a disease or its treatment resistance even before it appears on imaging scans or before any clinical symptoms are triggered.
A recent example would be the liquid biopsy test developed by Imperial College London and the University of Leicester. This test monitors the progression of breast cancer and can also identify patients that need a change in treatment. While the test is still under validation and far from commercialization, there are others that are already available in the market. A case in point is Biocept, Inc., who launched its new liquid biopsy test in July 2017. This test also helps detect and monitor a key biomarker in the bloodstream of patients with breast cancer.
These developments only go to show that liquid biopsy is set to be a game-changer in cancer care. Although this method will not be replacing tissue biopsy anytime soon, it will, however, complement tissue biopsy and enable more and more patients to get tested.
Next-generation Sequencing to Help Personalize Patient Care
NGS technology has made incredible progress in the last couple of decades in terms of sequencing chemistry, reliability, pipeline analyses, costs, and data interpretation. Some of the most recent technological developments have been in the field of oncology. Initially, traditional sequencing was done only for specific samples or DNA regions owing to the need for intensive work and capital. The Human Genome Project, for instance, took 13 years and billions of euros to sequence an entire human genome. NGS technology, however, offers the promise of a complete genome sequenced for less than US$1,000 per genome and done in just a few days. And even though we are yet to achieve this goal, the technology is sure to have an unprecedented impact on personalizing patient care for diseases such has cancer.
At the start of 2017, Illumina, Inc. introduced the NovaSeqTM Series at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. This new and scalable sequencing architecture is expected to enable a $100 genome one day. The platform is known to offer unmatched flexibility in high throughput sequencing, low per sample costs, and ease of use. The global leader in next-generation sequencing technology hopes that this platform will drive breakthroughs in precision medicine.
Improving Detection Sensitivity through Nanobiosensors
Nano-sized components are being incorporated into novel nanobiosensors and in current clinical diagnostic and detection systems. These have exhibited improved specificity and sensitivity compared to conventional approaches for cancer testing. Nanoparticles, nanotubes, nanowires, and nanocantilevers are some of the nanobiosensor systems being experimented with in the detection and diagnosis of breast, lung, prostate, pancreatic, and brain cancer in recent years.
Nanobiosensors offer many advantages compared to traditional biosensor systems. These include increase in detection sensitivity, feasibility in engineering smaller sensors, reduction in lab space requirements, lower cost of fabrication, ability to be used in implantable monitors, and decreasing overall clinical healthcare testing costs in oncology.
It has been promising to note that technological advances in recent times have improved detection and diagnosis of cancer, thereby improving survival rate. The American Cancer Society has found that the death rate from cancer in the U.S. has been steadily declining over the past 2 decades. This goes to show that earlier diagnosis of cancer could lead to improved outcome. As a result, more and more companies have joint the fight against cancer – investing heavily in the detection of a wide range of cancer diseases.